Tanning beds may reward the brain the same as addiction

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Tanning beds reward the brain the same as addiction
Despite the known risks, many people continue to expose themselves to the chances of developing melanoma by exposing themselves to indoor tanning beds.

Researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center suggest tanning beds may be addictive, causing the same type of brain activity seen in addicts. Indoor tanning may have a rewarding effect on the brain that compels users to continue.

The conclusion came from blood flow studies of the brain in response to tanning bed exposure, which were conducted by the UT researchers.

According to Dr. Bryon Adinoff, professor of psychiatry and senior author of the study, if tanning beds are rewarding, then they may be addictive. The same pathway drives other activities, including eating, drinking and sex.

The reward center is in the middle of the brain.

When an activity is pleasurable, dopamine is released in the brain - a chemical that heightens sensation. The brain in turn responds by "urging" you to repeat the behavior, simply because it felt good. Over time, the impulse to repeat an activity or behavior becomes stronger.

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For the study, participants were given a contract material intravenously. They were either really tanning or in a bed that had filters to block UV in two sessions. Before and after each tanning session, they were asked how much they felt like tanning.

The researchers saw changes in blood flow to the brain, linked to reward and pleasure, which is similar to that seen in addiction.

The next step is to develop a technology to track changes in the brain among frequent tanning bed users.

People under age 30 who use tanning beds 10 times a year increase their chances of melanoma eight-fold, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Despite educational efforts about the danger of tanning beds, their use is growing, as is the incidence of melanoma. The study from the UT Southwestern researchers suggests indoor tanning may be as rewarding as other addictions that lead to brain changes and the need to continue the unhealthy behavior.

Resource:
The University of Utah
"Natural Reward Pathways".

Image credit: Wikimedia commons

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